Authenticity in pageantry, how to get it, and why it should matter to you!
Authored by Laura Ashley Cliff, MHC, MA
When I competed in my very first pageant, I was thirty years old. I wasn’t your typical “Miss” contestant. In fact, a judge actually asked me during the interview if I was too old to compete in that system. Talk about a hit to my self-esteem in the midst of comparing myself to the 18+ delegates that I was competing next to! However, I didn’t let that hinder my experience. What I learned from that first pageant is that there was a fire, passion, and purpose brewing within me; I just needed to figure out on my own terms what that meant and how I could stand out while propelling my vision forward.
Far too often, comparison tends to seep into our minds when we compete. There will always be someone more accomplished, more intelligent, prettier, skinnier, has more followers on social media, the list goes on and on. Not to say that these women are not incredible, accomplished, and amazing in their own way, but they are not you, and their way of succeeding may not work for you.
When I competed for International Ms. in 2019, I vowed to only do it if I were being 100% true to myself. Authenticity means that we are honoring our values, radically accepting our flaws, and taking ownership for what we have and will continue to accomplish.
Previously, I had starved myself prior to pageants, thinking that the perfect “Blonde Barbie” was the epitome of a pageant queen. This is where my thinking was flawed. “Perfection” is literally something that is open to our own interpretation. What I consider “perfect” and what the judges consider “perfect”, are likely two completely different definitions. Isn’t that where we lose ourselves, with an ever changing bar that we can never seem to reach?
So, I worked on my physical health, exercised daily, ate healthy, and even had cake and ice cream celebrating a birthday mere days before heading to NYC to compete. I didn’t wear extensions, many of the dresses that I wore onstage were purchased from consignment shops, and I unapologetically shared my why, all of the dark, difficult, and shameful moments that brought me to that very moment; pouring my heart out to the judges. Guess what, I placed in the Top 10 for the first time in my life, by being myself.
Here are five ways you can introduce authenticity into your platform and social media presence.
Vulnerability is the single greatest gift you can give yourself. It is literally your superpower. Artist Morgan H. Nichols once said, “Share the story of the mountain you’ve climbed, your story could be a page in someone else’s survival guide”. Your why is the most powerful tool you have to face the judges with. It is the catalyst for change, for your passion, and for your platform. It also makes you relatable, honest, and true to yourself. When you are not ashamed of the mess that caused you to become so blessed, there is nothing that can shake you in comparison, because no one else has had to overcome your personal trials.
Be wildly and obsessively consumed by your passions. When you love something so fiercely, your magic becomes contagious. It doesn’t matter what your passion is, but if you embrace it with love, excitement, joy, and allow it to unapologetically light a fire within you; you will find that passion is magnetic. People don’t follow you on social media because they think you’re doing something cool, they follow you because you exude passion for your purpose, and that energy is felt by your viewers.
Never compromise your values. Far too often we get caught up in a cyclone of people pleasing thinking that doing what others want or expect of you will advance us to the next level. This could not be farther from the truth, when we compromise ourselves, we become disconnected from why we began this journey to begin with. It can also lead to toxic relationships, lack of boundaries, burnout, and losing the very passion that became our drive. Honoring your instinct, intuition, gut feelings, and moral compass will allow you to feel in control of how you present yourself and the messages you put out into the world.
Prioritize yourself, always. You are the crown, the crown is not you. You hold this title for a reason, everything mentioned above is that very reason. We’ve all heard the idiom, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Well, you also can’t lead if you’re not taking care of yourself. Your energy, your passion, your vision, how well you perform on stage; they are all dependent on your ability to prioritize rest, your health, your emotional and time boundaries, and ability to use the word “No”.
Value the opinion of others with awareness that opinions are not facts. The most stressful part of preparing for a pageant is not knowing what the judges are looking for. Having been a judge, I can tell you, even the judges do not have one single thing they are looking for, but they will know when they see it. Take in the suggestions of your coach, fitness instructor, nutrition specialist, and any other consultant you meet with; but stand true to steps one through four: if it doesn’t feel good, align with your purpose, fill you with excitement, align with your morals and values, SET THE BOUNDARY AND SAY NO, THANK YOU. While knowledgeable experts have a lot of tips that may help you succeed, you will never feel fulfilled if you feel like you are changing everything about yourself for a title.